For five years, I had the great fortune to be a member of a dedicated Writer’s Critique Group. During that time, I line by line edited approximately 1,920,000 combined words for my four critique partners, and they each critiqued about 780,000 words for me. That’s a lot of words.
And did I ever learn a lot about writing!
Of course, the positive feedback was nice, and it was delightful to know when things were going well. But the real joy, the most valuable feedback was the constructive criticism. I craved the ugly, gritty details. I wanted to be nitpicked and challenged. I longed to improve and grow as a writer, and to accomplish that, I needed to know everything I was doing wrong. Each correction, negative comment, and suggestion was a precious gift that someone cared enough (about me) to write down and share.
As writers, we are usually too close to our books to be objective. We are infatuated with our characters and intimate with our stories. We know far more than we’ve put to paper, and therefore, our viewpoint is skewed. We don’t have the “fresh” perspective on plot, character, and pacing that other authors (and readers) can bring to a book.
Then there are the technical aspects of structuring sentences and paragraphs in interesting ways, making verbs pop, deepening point of view, showing versus telling, slashing filler words, killing redundancy and tightening. Until someone points out the weaknesses in our work, until we see it applied directly to our prose, it’s hard to comprehend.
Apparently, I couldn’t write a sentence without the word “that.” That was an invisible word that I never noticed until that was pointed out to me. That was eye-opening and that was a word that I now cull to the extent that I can. 🙂 UGH. Thank you to the wonderful writer who opened my eyes to “that!”
Now, I’m not talking about nasty comments or broad sweeping statements. Those don’t encourage growth and aren’t worth the words. I’m also not suggesting that anyone provide an unsoliticted critique of someone’s blog post! I’m talking about private, constructive feedback with contextual examples, the goal being to teach the craft, support one another, and improve our stories.
I’d suggest that every serious writer seek out criticism. Join a local writer’s group, find critique partners online, pay for an in-depth edit of your first three chapters if it’s all you can afford. Ask for tough love, soak it up, love it, and painstakingly apply the principles to your whole book.
When I started out, my writing was crap. I was clueless. I took my criticism and loved it. I still do.